Continuing to deny what is right in front of our eyes will spell disaster
Recently, residents of San Diego faced the frightening possibility of a good portion of their city going up in smoke. California’s governor, Jerry Brown, wasted no time in laying blame for the destructive fires right at the foot of the most ridiculously controversial topic in political circles: global climate change.
Why is it “ridiculous”? Because a sad minority of politicians, almost all of them of a “conservative” nature, flat-out choose to ignore conclusive scientific proof and consensus and continue to cling to their patently—and dangerously false—beliefs that “scientists are just making it all up” for some inexplicable reason.
“It is true that there is virtually no Republican who accepts the science that virtually is unanimous,” Gov. Brown said on ABC’s This Week right after the fires were finally brought under control. “There is no scientific question, there is just political denial for various reasons best known to those people who are in denial.”
Considering the vast amount of research that has been centered on global climate change during the past quarter century, along with the fact that over 98 percent of all papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals confirm the basic facts of global climate change, it boggles the mind that there is a very loud (and very effective) group of denialists who have hijacked the U.S. government with faux science and are standing in the way of doing something—anything—to help ameliorate the damage.
The most depressing conclusion to come out of the latest climate reports is that we’ve already passed the “tipping point” of being able to prevent long-term damage from global warming. Instead, we now are faced with changes that are beyond our ability to prevent. The best we can do is lessen the impact...and that’s provided governments and private businesses around the world actually agree to do anything.
“But what can I do about it?” you may be asking yourself.
The honest answer is nothing—unless you are willing to take the time and effort to change the national conversation from denial to acceptance, from reaction to proaction. This can be as simple as writing your congressman or posting on Facebook, on up to joining like-minded groups who are reaching out to private businesses to do what the climate-change deniers in government are unwilling to do.
Which is where we can help, with a bit of that old fashioned “science” and “facts”, the very things that either get ignored or outright demonized by the denialists. Thanks to the hardworking folks at PBS’ excellent news program “Moyers & Company”, we’re able to give you some facts to help clean up the most common misconceptions (or outright lies) spread by the climate change denialists.
• The first denial is all too common: “The Earth has actually cooled down since 1998.” This claim, often backed up by misleading charts and diagrams that confuse weather with climate (a distinction that nearly all denialists are incapable of understanding), was popularized by a British man by the name of Christopher Monckton. Monckton very carefully cherry-picked data to support his argument, and conveniently left out all data that he did not agree with. To whit, he looked for the warmest day of the warmest year in the 20th Century and then tried to use that as a baseline.
There’s also the slight problem that he claimed to be a member of the House of Lords when in fact he was not. It took a cease-and-desist order from Parliament to finally get him to stop. Not what one would consider a very honest person.
• The second denial uses the classic, “We doubt anyone will really check on the agency we’re criticizing” method of misdirection. Denialists love to share how the projected rates of global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) did not, in fact, match up. The first IPCC model projected the planetary temperature would increase at a rate of 3.5 degrees Celsius per century, when in fact the current readings show a warming rate of 1.4 degrees.
To most denialists, this is their favorite “gotcha!” moment, as if this somehow disproves all the science. The problem here is the misunderstanding between “projection” and “prediction”.
The IPCC tries to correlate a massive amount of data from all over the world to create a baseline projection, which is the scientific version of the (very) “educated guess”. It is not a prediction, as the IPCC does not employ psychics or soothsayers.
Furthermore, skeptics are trying to force very shortterm change data from the past decade or so into a century-long model. That would be the equivalent of using the rainiest day of one year to “disprove” a decade-long projection on drought. It’s basically the same tactic Monckton uses, and about as honest.
• The third rung on the ladder of denial is an attack on temperature readings. Anthony Watts, a former television weatherman and very vocal denialist for the Heartland Institute, is the most prominent source cited for this claim.
Back in 2009, he claimed that 90 percent of all weather stations that are relied upon to monitor temperature were placed in areas that artificially influenced their readings. He further claimed that researchers placed these stations next to heat sources. He was essentially trying to convince people that scientists are stupid.
The main problem with Watts’ claim (aside from the fact that scientists are not stupid) is that it is completely and utterly false. Check the peer-reviewed literature: Temperature readings are coming from all over the planet, urban areas, suburban areas, rural areas, weather balloons, satellite measurements and sea and ocean readings.
When all the data is collected and analyzed, the few outliers (in both directions) are removed to reach a common deduction. And that deduction is clear: The planet is warming up and continuing to warm up.
Blaming the thermometer for the fever doesn’t help the patient.
• Fourth on the list of the most common claims of the denialists is the one most often heard in the right-wing media: “There is no scientific consensus!”
In fact, there is such an overwhelming consensus that to claim otherwise moves directly into the realm of willful ignorance or even outright dishonesty.
The real number is 97 percent. That’s the percentage of working climate scientists who believe that human activities are a primary contributing factor causing the Earth to warm. Only three percent of climatologists don’t agree with the scientific consensus. To put this in perspective, eight percent of Americans still believe Elvis is alive. When you have nearly three times as many people believing the King of Rock-N-Roll is still alive and (reasonably) well than believe climate change is a myth, you have the very antithesis of “no consensus”.
“But what about all those lists signed by tens of thousands of dissenting climatologists I’ve seen on the Internet?” you ask. What about those, indeed?
Let’s start with the key part of the question: “...on the Internet.” Because as everyone knows, there is no misleading or nonfactual information posted on the Internet. Oh, wait, sorry...the complete opposite is true. The Internet may well be one of the single greatest inventions in human history, ranking right up there with the wheel, sliced bread and the electric guitar, but it is also the home of every crackpot and snake-oil salesman in existence.
The most famous of the “dissension lists” is the Oregon Petition, created by chemist Art Robinson. In between his full-time job marketing home-schooling kits to help parents combat “socialism in the public schools,” Robinson also published a petition that contained what he claimed were more than 31,000 signatures of American scientists who opposed the climate change consensus “based on claims published in peer reviewed journals.”
That’s an awful lot of scientists, and it would be an impressive counter argument except for one tiny little detail: Anyone could sign the petition. And by anyone, I mean such scientific notables as Posh Spice and Luke Skywalker. Not to disparage Victoria Beckham, who after all may well by very knowledgeable on climatology, but she is not an “American scientist”. Heck, Luke Skywalker isn’t even from this planet. Or galaxy, for that matter.
The hardest part of perusing the list of signatories is trying to find anyone who actually is a working climate scientist. There are mechanical engineers, biochemists, metallurgists, various other types of engineers and people with college degrees in scientific fields. What is missing is a single working climate scientist who has been published in peer-reviewed journal.
Not all denialists rely on outright chicanery. Some are honest (statistically speaking, there have to be a few at least), just misinformed, such as physicist Henrik Svensmark of the Danish National Space Institute in Copenhagen. He’s been publishing papers for more than a decade that claim the rate of global warming is due to increased solar activity, not because of mankind. It should be noted he is not denying the existence of global warming (which far too many denialists do), just its root cause.
So, is he right? The simple answer is no, and that’s because of science. The entire point of the scientific method is to observe and duplicate. If your observations do not match with others, or your results cannot be duplicated, there is something wrong with your data and/or theory. Solar observations of coronal and surface activity show no signs of increased output towards the Earth (rather less, in fact). In addition, temperature observations of our own atmosphere show that while the lower atmosphere is heating up, the upper atmosphere is actually cooling, which would not be the case if the sun was heating up. In fact, such observations support the consensus that the observed rate of planetary warming is due to increased greenhouse gases.
We could go on. And on and on and on. For every claim put forth by a climate change denialist, there is overwhelming evidence to disprove it. In researching this article, I wasn’t able to find a single claim that held up. Not one. And yet, according to the most recent survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 23 percent of Americans do not believe in climate change.
More disturbingly, that number has increased by seven percent since April of 2013. Even more worrisome, the majority of Republican lawmakers in Congress also do not believe (or claim not to) and have blocked every legislative attempt to address the problem.
We are living on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and the warning signs are clear. Yet we, as a nation, refuse to do anything about it. So who will really be to blame when our coasts are flooded, when our cities are devastated by ever-stronger storms and fires, when ever-larger portions of our planet are rendered inhabitable? It’s easy to blame the denialists, but if you don’t do anything to change the tide of history, the answer is as close as your bathroom mirror.
Can you really live with that? The clock is ticking. And it’s getting warmer.